Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

28 March 2009

Transformative Experience Design

Clark @ 12:15 PM

As part of the continual rethink about what I offer and to who (e.g. training department rethinks to managers, directors, VPs; experience design reviews/refines to learning teams), my thoughts on learning experience design took a leap.  I’ve argued that the skills in Engaging Learning (my book) are the ones that are critical for Pine & Gilmore’s next step beyond their experience economy, the transformative experience economy. But I’ve started to think deeper.

John Seely Brown challenged us at the Learning Irregulars meeting that what fundamentally made a difference was a ‘questing disposition’ found in certain active learning communities.  This manifests as an orientation to experimentation and learning. My curiosity was whether it was capable of being developed, as I’m loath to think that the 10% that learn despite schooling :) is inflexible because I believe that more and better learning has a chance to change our world for the better.

I hadn’t finished the article he subsequently sent me (coming soon), but it drove me back to some early thinking on attitude change.  I recognize that just learning skills aren’t enough, and that a truly transformative experience subjectively needs to result in a changed worldview, a feeling of new perspectives.  This could be a change in attitude, a new competency, or a fundamental change in perspective.

Which brings me back to looking at myth and ritual, something I tried to get my mind around before. I was looking for the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ritual, and the closest thing I could find is Rapport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, which is almost impenetrably dense (and I’m trained and practiced at reading academic prose!).  However, the takeaway is that ritual is hard to design, most artificial attempts fail miserably.

Others have suggested that transformation is at core about movement, which takes me back to ritual.  Both a search on transformation and a twitter response brought that element to the surface.  The other element that the search found was spirituality (not just religious).  Which is not surprising, but not necessarily useful.

Naturally, I fall back to thinking from the perspective of creating an experience that will yield that transformational aesthetic, but it’s grounded in intuition rather than any explicit guidance. Still, I think there’s something necessary in the perspective that skills alone isn’t enough, and as I said before, as much of our barriers may be attitude or motivation as knowledge and skills.

I’ve skimmed ahead in JSB’s article, and can see I need a followup post, but in the interim, I’d welcome your thoughts on designing truly transformative experiences, not just learning experiences.


  1. I’m a first time reader. Interested to read more about this

    Comment by Newman — 28 March 2009 @ 5:15 PM

  2. […] Quinn in his recent post Transformative Experience Design looks anew at Post and Gilmore’s transformative experience as part of the experience economy; […]

    Pingback by The Need for Rituals in Learning and Living | A Chronicle of a Learning Journey — 28 March 2009 @ 9:30 PM

  3. Clark;
    I don’t know where this came from, but I think that the synthesis of transformational experience, JS Brown’s ‘questing disposition’ and especially Rappaport (God rest his soul) is shear genius.  The following is from a review of Rappaport’s book by Mary Catherine Bateson:
    “Rappaport is . . .describing the kind of ecology of ideas and actions that might include and sustain religion (or secular rituals) as an integral part of life. . .  What is needed is not new theology (though some tune-ups might be helpful) but new forms of practice and social engagement. We can talk until we are blue in the face, but that may do more harm than good, creating new polarities; what we need to do instead is to march or dance or sing, as in the great civil rights demonstrations of the sixties that forged new convictions and new unity”.
    I think these forms of practice and social engagement can come in many different forms and can be short lived or last for centuries, but they all must exist and tap into an ecology of ideas and actions that are at a scale that is much larger than any single individual or any single designed event.
    I addition and rambling lines of thought at howardjohnson.edublogs.org

    Comment by Howard — 28 March 2009 @ 9:34 PM

  4. Clark,

    Due to the late hour in NY and the technical glitches in CA, I left the Irregulars session the other evening before you got into the good stuff. Jay tells me there is no recording so I’m very pleased to see your comments here. As for transformative experiences, Mezirow and Cooperrider have been my muses on this. It is possible in my view to orchestrate them. Please see my article with Susan Meyer and Steve Fitzgerald at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1137242. It was a Best Paper and published with the Academy of Management Proceedings in 2007.Would love to explore this with you.

    Comment by Loretta Donovan — 29 March 2009 @ 3:37 AM

  5. Wow, what great feedback! I got a pointer from someone in email to brainwashing(!), and in twitter to the necessity of movement, a lot to think on!

    I commented on Howard’s blog that I like the notion that we need to sing together more (was led to that thought yesterday from the twitter stream), and I added that we don’t do enough ‘signification’ (attaching meaning to transitions), e.g. high school graduation typically isn’t appropriate to it’s role. I recommend you read his blog post (from comment 2).

    Loretta, I look forward to reading your paper (how do I get it? The link only points to the abstract), and to finding out more about Mezirow and Cooperrider, and would welcome exploring this further.

    Comment by Clark — 29 March 2009 @ 6:31 AM

  6. Posted in response to the right post this time…

    Hey, Clark – I was able to grab it here:

    I signed up for the SSRN as well. The abstract is available by adding it to your briefcase but the publication is not.

    Comment by sflowers — 28 April 2009 @ 6:52 AM

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